Nurture all universities for Indian higher education to get globally competitive

The report recognizes that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work, distinguishing between research-focused and teaching-based institutions, as well as new and established ones.
The report recognizes that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work, distinguishing between research-focused and teaching-based institutions, as well as new and established ones.


  • The quest for higher rankings must start with a comprehensive ground report of the current status of higher education in the country. We must exercise care to see that all changes are aligned with our goals.

The landscape of Indian higher education institutions (HEIs) is experiencing rapid evolution, propelled by factors such as changing student expectations, a renewed emphasis on research quality and innovation, burgeoning global collaborations, a fervent desire for international recognition and intense competition in the academic sector among both public and private players. This transformation is also fuelled by accrediting bodies and ranking entities like NAAC, NBA, NIRF, UGC and AICTE, which wield substantial influence, shaping the academic landscape in terms of peer standing, access to grants and funding, student preferences, branding, faculty recruitment and development, and the introduction of new courses.

With the New Education Policy (NEP) and establishment of Institutions of Eminence (IOEs) playing catalyst, a palpable sense of change has engulfed the industry. Institutions are investing to achieve better national and global ranks. Notable institutions like IIT Bombay and IIT Delhi have made their mark in the global top 200, with IIT Bombay placed 149th by the 2024 QS Rankings. Private institutions like OP Jindal, Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE), VIT, Saveetha Institute of Medical and Technical Sciences and Shoolini University have also carved out top-1,000 positions globally.

Highly relevant in this context is a report published this May titled, ‘Transformative Reforms for Strengthening Periodic Assessment and Accreditation of All Higher Educational Institutions in India’ by a committee appointed by the ministry of education, led by K. Radhakrishnan, chairman of IIT Kanpur’s board of governors. While the panel’s recommendations could cause a stir in the HEI sector, a critical examination of these is necessary to determine whether they can serve India’s global aspirations well or are merely cosmetic changes.

The current committee has experts from IITs and representatives from public universities as well as accreditation and ranking agencies. However, it lacks representation from private universities, deemed universities, multi-disciplinary institutions and other reputed universities. With more than 400 private and over 100 deemed universities in the country, their exclusion raises questions of whether adequately diverse voices are being heard. Foreign universities have no say either, even as India opens its doors for them.

One of the panel’s recommendations is a ‘One Nation, One Data’ model, with suggestions on its implementation. HEIs currently spend much time providing data separately for various ratings and rankings. However, the report lacks specifics on the data to be collated, measurable parameters, or how data alignment between various agencies will work. While a proposal to simplify application forms is welcome, its practical implementation remains vague.

Critiques have emerged of the report’s assessment of existing efforts. While it mentions that the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) has accredited only 30% of HEIs in India, this is still a large number, and many renowned institutions have embraced the NAAC framework. The NAAC score is also considered a qualifying criterion for universities to run online distance learning programmes. The report suggests replacing peer teams in the NAAC methodology with other agencies, which could potentially undermine the acceptance and capacity-building efforts established within the university system. As Henry Ford famously said, “We do not make changes for the sake of making them." HEIs have been striving to attain A+ or A++ rankings to showcase their excellence, but the report aligns with NEP recommendations by proposing a binary ranking system with modifications, offering fewer incentives for institutions to excel.

Globally renowned institutions operate with a high degree of autonomy; they view government bodies as enablers rather than regulators. The Indian scenario, however, is burdened with governmental bureaucracy, given the need for university and course accreditation among other periodic compliance requirements. A positive recommendation from this committee is the amalgamation of various accreditations (programme/institution) into one, with the added benefit of conditional periodicity of assessments.

The report takes a compassionate view of philanthropic institutions in remote areas with limited funding, proposing support and facilitation for accreditation. It also recognizes that a one-size-fits-all approach does not work, distinguishing between research-focused and teaching-based institutions, as well as new and established ones. But it overlooks the complexity of multidisciplinary HEIs that blend research and teaching. The report falls short in addressing how aspirational HEIs aiming for global recognition, such as IISc, IITs, Anna University, Savitribai Phule and MG University or deemed private universities like MAHE, OP Jindal and Shoolini, can be nurtured for it. Also, oddly, it does not touch upon IOEs at all, although it’s a major government initiative.

Nurturing both public and private universities will not only offer students access to the best education in India, but also curtail the outflow of funds for studies abroad. Our higher education sector is an opaque space, but today’s HEI competition is global and this requires a competitive mindset. With broader consultations, let’s hope this report will be refined to better reflect the evolving HEI landscape and our global aspirations.

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